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On art and NASCAR (2): Cyril Edward Power

'Speed Trial', 1932, Linocut, Cyril Edward Power

Cyril Edward Power was an interesting man. He was born in 1872 in London, and was trained as an architect. He won the RIBA medal in 1900 (a prestigious architectural award), then worked in his family’s architectural practice, as well as for the Ministry of Works, designing public buildings. In 1912 he published a three-volume ‘History of English Medieval Architecture’ with his own illustrations. He flew with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, and perhaps this is where his fascination with machinery and movement began. In the 1920s, he gradually turned towards art, particularly printmaking. In 1932, he made the linocut shown above, ‘Speed Trial’.

Power was influenced by the Italian Futurists (discussed in the first post in this series), and their English followers, the Vorticists. This print was made 20 years after the Balla painting I talked about earlier, but it still has that direct, un-ironic admiration for cars and speed, and the belief that these things are symbols of twentieth century modernity. The image is of a very specific car: the Campbell-Napier-Railton Bluebird, the machine in which the English racing motorist Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the land speed record by reaching 246 miles per hour on Daytona Beach. Perhaps Cyril Power created this picture of the Bluebird because he was a patriotic Englishman.  But the way he turned the car and the space around it into a series of parallel swooshing curves shows that he also wanted to create a visual equivalent for what was, at that time, a mind-blowing achievement in speed.

Malcolm Campbell with the 1931 Bluebird at Daytona Beach

Power might have approved of Aldous Huxley’s words: “Speed is the only entirely novel sensation of the twentieth century.”

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